Category Archives: Books

Vampires and Elephants

Today would have been the birthday or author/illustrator Edward Gorey.

I first registered Gorey as the illustrator for a children’s mystery series that I liked and a little later as the creator of the wonderful openings of PBS’s old Masterpiece Mystery! series. (As an adult, his illustrations aged much better than the books themselves.)​

I remember the back of my Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with his illustrations described Gorey as someone people assumed was English and dead, and that at that point he was neither. His work is both hard to describe and amazingly recognizable. Very small illustrations with lots of obelisks and sort of Victorian/Edwardian men, improbably architecture, and even more improbable creatures, all meticulously rendered in fine ink.

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Darwin Day

February 12th is traditionally recognized as Lincoln’s birthday, but it was also the birthday of naturalist Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s tree of life sketch.

What’s interesting and a more than a little terrifying is that just looking up Darwin Day will find you a barrage of anti-science websites and information.
So spare a little time to celebrate Darwin Day with a visit to a science museum, or to do something to support science education. You can visit for an interactive map to see if there are any special events in your area.
Or check a science book out from your local library!

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Starry Gems and Starfish

boivin_starfish_broochAmethyst is February’s traditional birthstone, so despite Valentine’s Day swooping in with its pinks and reds, it’s always purple that comes to mind for me this time of year. (Of course, I’m a purple fan, so it’s an all year ‘round color for me!)

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A Tip of the Hat

Sir John's Hatter

Sir John’s Hatter

Today is Mad Hatter Day. (At least in the US. I guess it’d be June 10th in Europe.) Mad Hatter Day was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

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Book Review: Stoned by Aja Raden

For the most part I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fun read with some excellent lines.* y648


I appreciate her efforts to clearly explain things as vastly different as the geological and biological processes that create gemstones and pearls, and different concepts of value to the psychology of want and envy and their roles both in marketing and the shaping of the political world.

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Swift Footed Mystery

I was reviewing a children’s nonfiction graphic novel on dinosaurs-First Second Press’s Science Comics (love the concept!) Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers. It was more about the discovery and scientists than dinosaurs themselves. There were some aspects of the book that I liked, some I wasn’t so fond of.


One thing that did catch my eye was the name Mignon Talbot. They mentioned that she was the first woman to name a dinosaur. I hadn’t heard of her before. So of course I had to hunt down a little more information. She was a professor of Geology and Geography at Mount Holyoke College for thirty-one years in the early 20th century.

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Once more unto the breach


DeriDolls William Shakespeare

DeriDolls William Shakespeare

Today is the sort of traditionally celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. We don’t know the exact date. We know he was baptized on the 26th of April 1564, and that he died on the 23rd of April 1616. I’m not sure when it became a tradition to celebrate his birthday on the day of his death.

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Read Banned Books

I always intend on a really ambitious classic reading binge around banned books week, and then I get there I look up from the book I’m reading, get a little embarrassed and figure maybe next year.


Of course, at this point so many books are being challenged that you can practically trip over them. I’m almost done with John Green’s Looking for Alaska, it was on my ‘I’ve been meaning to read’ list for ages, it apparently was also one of the top ten challenged books for last year. As was the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series which I remember fondly from elementary school.

A few years ago the New York Times had an article on ways to celebrate Banned Books Week. Interesting that they’ve not revisited it…


The More Things Change has a good look at the history of challenged books.

One of the standard arguments is that now books aren’t totally banned, they’re still available for purchase even if they aren’t available at the library-so there’s no need for this hoopla, right?


Challenging books in public libraries and schools is still a first amendment matter, and letting a small group of people choose what can and can’t be allowed in schools or libraries is a huge threat.


The ALA site has some fantastic quotes regarding intellectual freedom. There’s a long John Stuart Mill quote from On Liberty:


“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”


I’m not a George Bernard Shaw fan, but I do love quotes, so I need to add this one:


“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”


Among the frequently challenged classics, my favorites are probably Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. Besides being pathetic, full stop, it also strikes me as pathetically hilarious that people keep trying to ban them. Missing the point much?


Soma anyone?

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Bats on the Brain

Perhaps since I still had bats on the brain, I ran across a children’s/YA book on bats. It’s called The Bat Scientists. The author is Mary Carson and the photographer is Tom Uhlman.


I was really impressed with both its information and photography. The updated edition came out just this month and has the latest information on WNS and conservation.


Even though it’s a children’s book, it seems like a great quick introduction for adults and teenagers, and has materials in the back for further research.


A few facts from the book, some I knew, some were new to me.


Batty Facts


  • Bats aren’t blind-they see fairly well.
  • They aren’t going to get tangled in your hair-bats avoid people and fly too well to get in hair.
  • Bats are often called flying rats or mice, but they aren’t rodents. Some scientists think they’re primitive primate relatives.
  • They’re the only mammal capable of true flight. (As opposed to gliding.)
  • For their size, bats are the longest lived mammals on earth-even the small ones can live for 40 years! (With mammals generally the larger the size the longer the life span.)
  • Since people associate them with the short lived and fast breeding mouse, they assume bats work the same way, but bats breed very slowly-most have at most one offspring a year. The author quotes biologist Barbara French “One lost baby bat is a lost generation.”
  • Less than one half of one percent have rabies-they’re not crazy flying animals out to get you.


It also mentioned an interesting project I’d not heard about. The Bellamy Cave Project. Apparently Bellamy Cave in Tennessee is a major hibernation cave for the endangered gray bat. Last year the Nature Conservancy is mad a concrete cave nearby. The idea was that a concrete cave could be cleaned out and disinfected come spring, hopefully slowing the spread of WNS.


They had limited time last year and finished construction after hibernation started, but they did have a few guests. They’re hoping to see more visitors this year since the precast/prefabricated concrete cave will be ready and the proper temperature in time for hibernation season.


Filed under Books, Natural Science

Of Burnt Roses and Cabana Boys


Indelible is Dawn Metcalf’s new book. I heard a teensy bit about it years ago, even before the gorgeous Luminous went to press, and have been bouncing around waiting to hear the rest for way too long.



Indelible is set in the modern world, but something of her mysterious and finely drawn characters remind me of the delicate details and half glimpsed faces of turn of the century illustrator Arthur Rackham’s work. (In this case Pandora’s Box.)

So we didn’t get the rest, but a wonderful start to a whole world.


I got an advance copy in June, devoured it, and then procrastinated writing about it. I’ve been putting it off because it’s so hard to describe without either sounding super vague or giving too much away.


It’s clever and beautiful and complicated and creepy and quirky and I tend to do a lot of gesturing when describing it in person. It’s about families changing and worlds changing, about siblings and friends and first love and how everything that holds individuals together can tear them apart.


I’m totally going to cheat and copy a summary from her site, best way to ensure that I stay spoilers free!


Some things are permanent.
And they cannot be changed back.


Joy Malone learns this the night she sees a stranger with all-black eyes across a crowded room-right before the mystery boy tries to cut out her eye. Instead, the wound accidentally marks her as property of Indelible Ink, and this dangerous mistake thrusts Joy into an incomprehensible world-a world of monsters at the window, glowing girls on the doorstep and a life that will never be the same. Now Joy must pretend to be Ink’s chosen one-his helper, his love, his something for the foreseeable future…and failure to be convincing means a painful death for them both. Swept into a world of monsters, illusion, immortal honor and revenge, Joy discovers that sometimes, there are no mistakes.


Somewhere between reality and myth lies…




Check out Dawn’s blog for inspiration, entertaining rambles and the occasional chance for really cool swag. Also, if you’re in New England this coming week she has a book signing that involves special ice cream sundaes at an independent creamery, how do you top that?!

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